The following is The Task Force’s statement submitted to the World Health Organization (WHO) for the World Health Assembly (WHA) which The Task Force attended as a WHO non-State actor. The WHA73 resumed on November 9 – 14, virtually, from the original meeting earlier this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch the recorded live webcasts here.
The Task Force for Global Health, based in Atlanta, USA, was founded nearly 40 years ago to advance health equity. The Task Force works with the WHO and partners in more than 150 countries to eliminate diseases, ensure access to vaccines and essential medicines, and strengthen health systems to protect populations.
Our COVID-19 activities include: vaccine safety guidelines; digital contact tracing; training epidemiologists on disease surveillance and response; distributing essential protection and treatment to hard-hit communities; using existing health programs to ensure protection for vulnerable groups, such as those afflicted with other diseases; and, leveraging our existing supply chains for current response and in preparation for rolling out vaccines when ready.
We are encouraged and strongly supportive of the commitment of WHO and Member States to the COVID-19 response. We urge WHO, Member States and donors, during this acute phase of the outbreak, to strategically plan for and maximize investments so that, over the long term, they will ensure that programs for disease elimination and prevention, health and national public health systems are integrated and strengthened within the framework of universal healthcare.
The impact of COVID-19 is far-reaching and could negatively impact health for years to come. WHO should share strategies to help Member States maintain childhood vaccination, screening for preventable diseases and other essential health services including for polio, trachoma, leprosy, LF, influenza, hepatitis and others during the COVID-19 pandemic. WHO, through regional and country offices, should also help Member States strengthen health systems through scaling up diagnostic capacity for COVID-19 and extending this new capacity to improve testing for hepatitis and other infectious disease targeted for elimination, particularly as cases of COVID-19 wane.
We wish Member States a successful and productive meeting.
Through these areas, The Task Force is committed to helping countries protect their populations from seasonal influenza and prepare for the next pandemic by building capacity in countries to respond effectively.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 291,000 and 646,000 people worldwide die from seasonal influenza-related respiratory illnesses each year. During an influenza pandemic, the impact could be far greater. It is estimated that an influenza pandemic similar to the 1918 pandemic could result in 62 million deaths, with 96% of these deaths occurring in low-and lower middle-income countries.
And while the full economic and health impacts of COVID-19 are not yet known, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund recognize the global economic contraction caused by the ongoing coronavirus pandemic as the largest in the last eight decades, raising the world poverty rate, exacerbating inequalities, and damaging long-term economic growth prospects.
Influenza vaccination programs clearly reduce the annual influenza disease burden, but they are also a mechanism to strengthen preparedness for future epidemics and pandemics including the creation of vaccine delivery systems. Influenza program infrastructure is already supporting the efforts to fight COVID 19 and will be utilized to respond to COVID 19 once a vaccine becomes available, highlighting that a ready seasonal influenza system is a ready vaccine delivery system and enhances our collective global security.
The Task Force works in partnership with others in the seasonal influenza and pandemic preparedness community to strengthen our overall global readiness.
Through its initiatives, The Task Force is committed to the global effort to control and eliminate a particular group of communicable diseases that disproportionately affect the poorest populations in the world, the neglected tropical diseases (NTDs).
Motivated by our core values of global health equity and social justice, The Task Force manages pharmaceutical donations that prevent and treat NTDs; conducts operational research that informs and improves public health interventions for the control and elimination of NTDs; strengthens multi-partner coalitions for disease elimination; and monitors and evaluates NTD elimination efforts. In 2012 at the London Declaration, we joined hundreds of individuals, governments, international agencies, philanthropists, non-governmental organizations and corporations in making a commitment striving to control, eliminate or eradicate ten NTDs by 2020.
Though the community has made extraordinary progress as of 2020, we now join other stakeholders in a commitment to support the World Health Organization’s new 2021–2030 NTD Roadmap: “Ending the neglect to attain the Sustainable Development Goals” at the 73rd World Health Assembly. The Task Force remains committed to the control, elimination, and eradication of NTDs, in particular the six NTDs where we focus – intestinal worms, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, schistosomiasis, and trachoma.
No one organization can achieve these goals alone, so as we embark on the next ten years, we seek to continue to work in close partnership with the NTD community and other health experts to fully support the WHO’s strategies and targets outlined in the Roadmap to end the neglect.
Updates on Task Force Relevant Sessions
Committee A – November 12: The Task Force’s Director of Global and Federal Affairs, Courtenay Dusenbury, MPH, shared a statement congratulating Dr. Mwele Malecela, WHO Director of the Department of Control of Neglected Tropical Diseases, her team and all partners who contributed to the tremendous accomplishment of the Neglected Tropical Diseases 2030 roadmap. The Task Force partners with WHO and health leaders in multiple countries toward elimination of six NTDs: intestinal worms, leprosy, lymphatic filariasis, river blindness, schistosomiasis, and trachoma. The new roadmap provides a strong framework, with measurable targets, to ensure integrated and strategic partnerships, planning and investments. Ms. Dusenbury stated, “As we embark on the next ten years, we look forward to continuing to work in close partnership with others in the NTD community to fully support WHO’s strategies and targets.”
Committee A – November 11: Committee A Chair called upon seven external observers and non-State actors in official relations with the WHO, including The Task Force, to make their statement on influenza and polio initiatives. The Task Force’s Director of Global and Federal Affairs, Courtenay Dusenbury, MPH, made a shortened version of the above influenza statement on behalf of The Task Force during the morning session of the 73rd World Health Assembly.
The importance of influenza systems were noted as the foundation of COVID-19 response and therefore future pandemics of any respiratory disease. The polio community was also heralded for its quick response to provide support for COVID-19 in the form of contact tracing, surveillance, and other activities. This has been echoed by partner countries where The Task Force’s Polio Eradication Center operates as well as partner countries where The Task Force’s Partnership for Influenza Vaccine Introduction has helped establish seasonal influenza systems.
Committee A – November 9: Lothar Weiler, PhD, President of the Robert Koch Institute, the national public health institute of Germany, presented on the first day of the 73rd WHA about the International Health Regulations (IHR). The IHR have provided an invaluable framework for countries to assess and build their ability to respond to pandemics. The Task Force is contributing to this type of work through programs like TEPHINET which works with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other national public health institutes around the world to build a cadre of “disease detectives” that can quickly identify cases and prevent the spread of diseases.
During his COVID-19 update, Mike Ryan, MD, stressed the importance of the Global Outbreak Alert and Response Network saying that its “130 experts from 41 partners in 26 countries” are providing crucial technical support to countries. The Task Force helps connect trained field epidemiologists with GOARN for specific outbreak needs.
He also identified the need for ensuring health systems are improved and strengthened in order to effectively respond to COVID-19 and future epidemics and pandemics. The Task Force is working with countries on pandemic preparedness and outbreak response in a number of ways. In addition to strengthening health systems, Ryan emphasized the need for equitable distribution and access to personal protective equipment and vaccines. With cases increasing in the northern hemisphere, there are concerns that inequitable access to response efforts will also increase. Learn more about our efforts to create an equitable COVID-19 response.
Opening Remarks: “One billion more people covered is our goal, focusing on essential services during the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Director Tedros. The Task Force is proud to be a partner in many of the accomplishments cited during the opening address, including “major steps forward” on hepatitis, polio, vaccine development and neglected tropical diseases elimination “from the village level upward.”
Header photo: The WHO Director, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, makes opening remarks in the Executive Board Room at the WHO Headquarters in Geneva. Photo courtesy of the WHO.